I’ve gotten pretty used to being called a strange guy over the years, with no real comeback. An airport is one of my favorite places to be. I prefer hostels to the Hilton, and walk around the college town I call home baffled over students who choose the luxury buildings developers have recently vomited up to a shabby house with seven roommates. It’s definitely a bit strange.
In this business you need that.
Being a travel writer means spending most of your life either just back from or on your way to someplace else. We share half our beers with people we’ll probably never see again. As a general rule I think those of us who stick it out do so at least in part because we need an open horizon and a bit of homelessness to feel at home, which is certainly not normal.
So, I have to agree: strange, and probably never more so than when it comes to my routines and rituals, because like many frequent travelers I’ve got plenty. Such as…
When is a souvenir more than a souvenir? When it comes from really far away. Everywhere I go I try to pick up something small that I can attach to the green carabiner I keep tokens on. Over time it’s become an assortment of small moments too numerous to fit on one clip.
The first time I saw Angkor Wat I bought a small bracelet. In Lima, after seeing the Pacific coast of South America, I picked up a keychain. Greek worry beads remind me of an Athens market on honeymoon.
They’re my good luck charms and a whole series of stories rolled into one and lead to…
The Last Packed
That carabiner is the last thing I pack. It’s how I know I’m ready to walk out the door. My battered green Jansport has circled the world a couple of time by now and survived more than any backpack has any right to. (I give few endorsements, but I’ll plug Jansport and their lifetime guarantee without reservation. I’ve had this backpack since I was 16 and it’s still going strong. Anyone looking for a good travel pack should start and end there.)
After I’ve packed my bag, double checked everything and know I’m ready to go, the last thing to do is clip on my carabiner of souvenirs. It’s how I know I’m ready to go.
The Cheeseburger Rule
I visited England during the tail end of the mad cow scare. The whole thing didn’t worry me, but my mom was concerned and made me promise not to eat any British beef while abroad. Being the dutiful son not only did I make that promise, I kept it.
I ate no cheeseburgers that summer. Knowing I’d be high and dry for red meat, though, I grabbed a one at the airport before takeoff and abstained until I was back in the States, whereupon I attacked the burger joint nearest to my gate after landing (I believe it was a Hardee’s). From there the rule just kind of stuck. Fast forward nearly 10 years and we have the Cheeseburger Rule: no burgers while I’m away, but they’re the last thing I eat before leaving and the first thing I eat when getting home.
Another callback to my first England trip, when I picked up road maps of Britain and Western Europe expecting to… I don’t know, walk from place to place?
Look, I’ll be honest, I’m still not sure entirely what I expected out of that trip, but I packed like I was planning a short trip into Mordor. Old enough to know better, there I was preparing to hike from town to town, sleeping under hedgerows and I don’t even know what else. If you’d suggested I’d have to battle orcs on the crossing into France I probably would have nodded thoughtfully and asked about their weaknesses.
For heaven’s sake, I brought a waterproof tarp and 30 feet of nylon rope, presumably in case I needed to erect my own shelter. (In my defense, I do sometimes wind up without a place to stay and have spent my share of nights in airports and train stations. But still.)
Anyhow, embarrassment aside, the maps stuck. My bookshelf now has battered old roadmaps from every country I’ve been, and that’s the way I like it.
I always bring at least one Spiderman comic book with me, but that just makes sense. In fact, I recommend bringing great literature along on any trip no matter how long or short.
The Sudden Drop
Okay, this isn’t a ritual, it just happens. You know that part of a flight, a little after takeoff when the whole plane feels like it drops about a foot? I hate that…